Kobe Bryant talks with Jim Buss, reiterates ‘selfish’ desire for Lakers to contend next two seasons

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Kobe Bryant is under contract for two seasons following this one, and then he very well could call it a career.

This season has already gone down the drain, lost due to injury. He doesn’t want to waste the next two seasons, and he’s not shy about about expressing that.

But only in the most-dysfunctional franchise could let the star player so publicly question the front office without meeting with its leader. And, for whatever problems they have, the Lakers are not that.

Kobe, via ESPN Los Angeles:

“Jimmy (executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss) and I actually talked after that and it’s important for us to have that conversation because this is their team, it’s been in their family for years and we all know what the track record is for that, but I’ve also been part of this franchise since I was 17 years old,” Bryant told Rovell. “I feel like I bleed purple and gold and I want to see this franchise be successful. I don’t want to hear the comments of dissension between Jim and [Lakers president] Jeanie [Buss]. We need to figure this thing out. We’re all moving in the same direction.”

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns (when he re-signed) and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

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First of all, I love that Kobe calls him Jimmy rather than Jim. Perfect Kobe.

Also, Kobe is nothing but honest. He’s being selfish. His clock is ticking, and even if the Lakers’ most prudent strategy is a longer-term rebuild, that does nothing for him.

If the Lakers assured him they’d trade to contend, they’re only enabling Kobe and, by him going public, losing leverage in trade and free-agent negotiations.

Even if Buss and Kobe are on the exact same page about contending these next two seasons, it won’t be easy to accomplish, regardless.

The Lakers have won a third of their games this season. Since the NBA-ABA merger, 166 teams teams have won so few games during a full season. Rarely did they win at least 55 games, the threshold commonly associated with contending for a championship, within the next two seasons.

  • The 1988-89 San Antonio Spurs went 21-61, added David Robinson and went 56-26 the following year.
  • The 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs went 20-62, drafted Tim Duncan, also went 56-26 the following year and won the championship the year after that.
  • The 2002-03 Miami Heat went 25-57, drafted Dwyane Wade, traded for Shaquille O’Neal and went 59-23 to make the conference finals two years later.
  • The 2006-07 Boston Celtics went 24-58, traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and then went 66-16 the next year and won the championship.
  • The 2008-09 Oklahoma City Thunder went 23-59, let Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook grow up, drafted James Harden and Serge Ibaka and went 55-27 and reached the conference finals two years later.

And that’s the entire list. Five of 166 (three percent).

Can the Lakers make six of 172? (The Bucks, 76ers, Magic, Celtic and Jazz have also won fewer than a third of their games this season.)

Robinson and Duncan each played four years in college (and Robinson served two years in the Navy before joining the pros), so it’s unlikely the Lakers can add such an NBA-ready player in this draft like the Spurs twice did.

The Lakers don’t have anyone in the same realm as Durant, or even Westbrook, already on the team, so the Thunder model is out.

Even with their propensity to get discounts on trades, the Lakers probably don’t have the goods to add two stars and make a single-year turnaround like the Celtics did.

If there’s any model the Lakers can follow, it’s the 2002-03 Heat. The Heat were similarly bereft of assets, but they signed Lamar Odom and used him in the Shaq trade. And obviously, the Lakers would have to hit their draft pick this season, as Miami did with Wade. But signing someone to be used in a later trade (maybe for Kevin Love?) and going through the draft made this a two-year turnaround.

Would Kobe settle for contending in 2015-16 only? That could be a good compromise.

If the Lakers sink all their resources into building next season’s team as strong as it can be, I suspect they and Kobe will be disappointed with the result, both in 2014-15 and beyond. Many more than the five teams on the above list tried for a quick turnaround, and most of them got stuck with negative assets and few draft picks.

This is just going down a road toward trouble. Maybe the Lakers shouldn’t have given a $48.5 million extension to a 35-year-old with knee problems and an attitude.

Why did Nick Young play for Warriors last season? “I just needed to win”

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Coming off a season where he was part of an NBA champion, Nick Young is a free agent. Still. Which is a bit of a surprise — he’s a gunner, but a lot of teams could use the buckets he brings off the bench. Even if he didn’t always do that within the flow of the Warriors’ offense.

Young had been in the NBA for a decade when he went to the Warriors, and in speaking with Adam Caparell of Complex Magazine (hat tip NBC Sports Bay Area), he said that Lakers’ coach (and former Warriors’ assistant) Luke Walton opened up the door for him with some calls.

“I just needed to win. I had been on a lot of losing teams. Always rebuilding,” says Young. “I feel I needed to experience [winning] and be around guys who are just really good teammates like Draymond, even though he’s crazy.”

It worked. Swaggy P has a ring.

And he wants you to know he earned it — and he earned being in the league for a decade plus. He puts in the time on his body and craft.

“I love basketball. I wish people could see that it’s hard to be in the NBA—not only to get there, but to stay there this long,” he says. “I know players who were drafted higher than me that are gone.”

The big question now is where Young plays next season. He played 17 minutes a night for the NBA champions last season and 41 percent from three, some teams could use that. They may be looking at younger players they think they can develop, but before long some team will turn to Young because they know he can get them buckets.

It just may not be the same winning situation he was in a year ago.

 

C.J. McCollum on stars joining Warriors: “I think that’s disgusting”

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It remains the best “I want to start a passionate and irrational debate” topic around the NBA: Stars jumping to a contending team. Mainly the Warriors. Kevin Durant got a lot of “he took the easy way” flack when he did it (and he could calm a lot of the debate around him by just saying “I’m winning, I’m happy, that’s all that matters” but that’s not KD’s nature, so he pushes back on the narrative).

This summer it was DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not like there was some great demand for his services coming off a torn Achilles, but his signing with the Warriors was the biggest surprise of the summer and led to a lot of “how do we stop them?” comments. (I don’t know, maybe offer Cousins more than an exception contract. Just a thought.)

C.J. McCollum — touring China to promote his shoes — was on China Central Television and said he would never do that.

“I would never do anything of that nature, I think that’s disgusting… I was not built like those guys, I was raised differently… I think some players will take that route, but most guys have too much pride, they want to do well or certain organizations that are not going to jump the bandwagon.”

Plenty of fans and other players agree with McCollum.

I don’t — I like the fact players such as Durant (and LeBron James, and others) are taking control of their own destinies more. They shouldn’t be just puppets of GMs. It’s okay that the Warriors drafted and developed Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest because that’s “natural” but the second a star player says “I like the culture and style they built there, I want to be part of that” it’s wrong? I don’t buy the “guys have to do it themselves” line of thinking because guys never won titles on their own — not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan. They were all on stacked teams. The difference is the players are making more of those choices now rather than leaving it to the white guys in suits.

McCollum is on a 49-win, three-seed team with another elite player in Damian Lillard, a franchise that was looking all summer for a way to add another star or more talent to the roster. But I guess that’s different somehow.

Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

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For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

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Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?